Amidst the COVID-19 lock-down, the Social and Environmental issues humanity was facing have been suppressed for a while now.

The pressing issues have been silenced for a while now. New EIA Notification (2020) Dilutes Existing Rules for Attaining Environmental Clearance.

India saw the upsurge of protesters against the deforestation of the Aarey. The world has seen the Amazon forests burning in 2019, followed by the Australian bushfire in 2020. The issues like pollution, waste management, the overuse of natural resources, plaguing the rivers with filth, the air hardly breathable in the national capital had always been the backdrop until the virus emanated and locked humans up in their homes.

The Entire World is still figuring out the answer to whether it is a Boon or Bane?

Amidst these importunate times, the government of India has released its new EIA notification which dilutes the regulations made by the EIA notification of 2006. 

The EIA is an abbreviation for Environmental Impact Assessment, which is a regulation that requires a construction project to first verify whether or not the construction is going to impact the environment in a harmful way. 

However, the draft EIA notification 2020 has proposed a new set of environment clearance rules which are greatly in favour of the construction industry as the new projects has been categorized under 3 categories A, B1 and B2, respectively depending upon the social and environmental impacts. 

The discussion on Reddit shows that many believe this is a step to progress. They say that “the biggest hurdles in India's infrastructure and industrial growth will be greatly reduced with the EIA 2020 overhaul” and “this is exactly the step needed to propel growth”. 

The new draft ensures that all the construction cases held up in courts will get permission to resume work, and would not be required to undergo a very stringent environmental clearance.

However, the Environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta told Mongabay-India that the predominant thrust of the draft EIA notification 2020 is completely contrary to the principles of environment protection. (Source: Mongobay India)

Mongobay India is the frontline newspaper working to bring news from nature in India. It is believed by the environmentalists that the new notification is working contrary to the protection of the environment. Instead of conserving nature, it is sanctioning legitimacy to the illegal industrial activities which were not allowed by the EIA notification of 2006. These industries have violated environment clearance rules. In 2017, the government had released a notification that allowed industries to undertake projects which violated the 2006 rules. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change (MoEFCC) has taken up 31 cases so far that violated the 2006 rules. 

Cases of violation could mean that the construction work, excavation, or installation has been started without prior environmental clearance. Therefore, the ministry attempts to bring these violations under its purview so that they do not remain unchecked. 

With the new notification in effect, the local people and those affected will not be consulted and could be directly harmed by the draft. There is nobody who can be considered separate from the environmental stakeholders. But the draft says that public consultation is exempted for projects including modernisation of irrigation projects, all building, construction and area development projects, inland waterways, expansion or widening of national highways. 

Mining is a process that hampers nature extensively. The earlier notification allowed mining to go on in a land for 30 years. The latest one lets it go on for 50 years.

The Government uses the words “strategic project” in line with the same notification which does not require any public consultation. The projects under defence and security are acceptable and considered a need but the term “strategic projects” can have a wide scope. The Government can launch projects in the direction of irrigation or mining too, which may need Environmental clearance.

The new notification gives too many discretionary powers to the government. The government is centring its plans on the ease of business but the easier modernisation has been the more trouble the environment has undergone. 

Other instances cited by those holding against the notification include those of the waterways. The government has attempted to increase inland waterways. But the capital dredging for waterways requires environmental clearance. The draft of the new notification keeps rivers out of the purview of the environmental clearance.

River water is the source of drinking water and irrigation for a number of cities in India since time immemorial. Enough maltreatment has been meted out to the rivers due to advancement. There seems to be no concern expressed in this regard in the 2020 notification.

Most environmentalists have expressed that the notification is a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected heard about it, leaving them with no option but to accept it.

The Draft EIA 2020 further intensifies this situation and says that “such violations being recurring in nature may come to the notice in future during the process of appraisal or monitoring or inspection by regulatory authorities.”

This implies silent acceptance of the procedure. Instead of prevention, the draft seems to be aiming at generating cure. The draft will do away with many public hearings of violators, and will give clearance to mostly all projects of dams, industries, airports, highways and mines.

The new draft could bring a new era of industrialisation for those who reside in the towns and cities. However, India has multitudes living close to nature, the tribes, the pagans, and the people from villages. They have a greater share in nature than others. The tribunals, the environmentalists and those passionately preserving nature should be given discretion in the projects affecting the environment.

It is a time to pause and reflect whether technology and advancement, or building skyscrapers and tall infrastructures has done any good to our quality of living. 

The news has shown pictures of deer coming out on the streets of Haridwar, penguins watching the night lights of Melbourne, dolphins returning to the coasts of Italy, and so many comate species of humans getting their natural habitat restored. It has touched us to see the Holy Ganga blue again and the Delhi air free from smog as the air quality index getting better. 

We are to decide which pleases us more: this quietude and synergy with nature or the noise and din of tomorrow. 


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